Letter from the Chair … “Which recounts what will be seen by whoever reads it, or heard by whoever listens to it being read.”

Welcome to the first issue of our new Hispanic Institute Bulletin. I will not tell you what you will find in it—it is much better if you read it. Students, graduate and undergraduate, as well a lecturers and faculty, along with administrative voices and alumni, have contributed to this issue. All of them, as a collective, are the soul of both the Department and the Institute 1

A little bit of history

In 1916, Federico de Onís arrived in the United States and was appointed to invent, as it were, the field of Hispanic Studies at Columbia University2 . In 1920, he founded the Instituto de las Españas, renamed as the Hispanic Institute in 1930.

At the beginning, the Instituto was homeless, until President Butler funded the first Casa Hispánica on Amsterdam Avenue. Years later, after World War II, both the Department and the Institute moved to their current location, a 1906 building with all the charm of the world. In 2008, our Department, then “Spanish and Portuguese,” was renamed as Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (LAIC). The Institute kept its name, although we like to call it Hispanic Institute for Latin American and Iberian Cultures 3.

Global interests

The name change is not a capricious decision. In the past, the main interests of the Department were Spanish and Portuguese Languages and Literatures, but this mission did not sound as compelling now as it did before. In addition to Spanish and Portuguese, many of us work in other languages. These other languages, however, are equally central to the cultures and the production of knowledge in the Americas, the Iberian Peninsula, and the other spaces around the globe that were part of either of the former Iberian empires at different points in history. Hispanic, Spanish, Portuguese, Almohad, Almoravid, Catalan, as well as other empires that, along with their plethora of languages, expanded their influence across the globe.

As you can imagine, our interests have grown beyond the fields of language teaching and literary studies. Literature and language remain a central concern of our daily work, both within and outside the classroom. But we also work on material culture, visual culture, music, book history, film, art, cultural markets, theory, philosophy, law, the digital revolution, along with other fields that are part of our commitment to understanding our world from both a contemporary and a historical perspective 4.

The mission of many departments of Spanish and Portuguese has been, first and foremost, to teach the language and to promote the literary culture in those two main languages. Our work, at LAIC, goes well beyond these boundaries. Together, from our undergraduate students all the way to the most prestigious of our named professors, we constitute a committed group of scholars.

What identifies our work is research. We are very proud of all our service to the university and to the profession at large. But what we do is research at the highest level. Historical, theoretical, material, contemporary, critical—these are some of the words that may define our work as researchers.

Digital traces

We write books, articles, give talks, and create all sorts of other scholarly products, some of which are available in our different sections of this website, including the bookshelf, personal blogs, and our video library. Our undergraduate students have recently created their own journal of undergraduate research, Portales, whose first issue is now online—and the second one is already in the making. The Institute is also house of the very prestigious Revista Hispánica Moderna. You can follow our activities by consulting the News of the Hispanic Institute as well as our Calendar of Events 5.

Public Humanities

We, however, do not inhabit the proverbial Ivory Tower. What we do is linked to a larger idea of the public humanities. What we do, our voice as scholars and researchers, is central to public life—we study issues like religion, globalization, political practices, legal writing, immigration, inequality, multilingualism, problems that are tattooed on the skin of New York that is not only our own city, but also our campus. LAIC Public Initiative is our way to engage in conversation with the community we are part of, with our neighborhood, and with our friends beyond academia.

Open doors

This is what we do, and we do it with soul. Of course, your contribution is essential to this mission and to these activities. Come and participate. These doors are permanently open.

Last Updated 4 years ago


Jesús R. Velasco, « Letter from the Chair … “Which recounts what will be seen by whoever reads it, or heard by whoever listens to it being read.” », Hispanic Institute Bulletin, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on April 11, 2015. Full URL for this article
Hispanic Institute Bulletin
ISSN 2377-8873
The Hispanic Institute was founded in 1920 with the mission of bridging academia and society at large. Almost a century later, the Bulletin of the Hispanic Institute for Latin American and Iberian Cultures continues to carry out that mission through new technologies and media. The Bulletin is a window into the Department’s everyday work and how our community, from undergraduate students to faculty and alumni, responds to the challenges posed by a field in constant flux.

With contributions from all members of the department (and graduates), the Bulletin shows how LAIC—in the classroom, through research, and in public interventions—engages with changing theoretical paradigms, the increasing presence of digital tools, and the reconfiguration of the humanities and their place in society.
  • Editorial Board
  • Faculty, lecturers, and students at LAIC.